Supreme Court votes 8-1 to exclude Puerto Ricans from federal benefits

Supreme Court votes 8-1 to exclude Puerto Ricans from federal benefits
Members of the Supreme Court voted on Thursday in an 8-1 opinion that Congress can exclude Puerto Rican residents from some of the federal benefits accessible to people living in the 50 U.S. states. File Pool Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI | License Photo

April 21 (UPI) — On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 opinion that Puerto Rican residents can be excluded from some of the federal benefits accessible to people living in the 50 U.S. states.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a daughter of Puerto Rican-born parents, dissented from the opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The court examined whether Supplemental Security Income available to low-income Americans over 65 or who are blind and disabled would also include those in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.

The SSI makes monthly payments to qualified people living in the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the Mariana Islands.

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917.

“In devising tax and benefits programs, it is reasonable for Congress to take account of the general balance of benefits to and burdens on the residents of Puerto Rico,” Kavanaugh wrote in the opinion, CNN reported.

“In doing so, Congress need not conduct a dollar-to-dollar comparison of how its tax and benefits programs apply in the States as compared to the territories, either at the individual or collective level,” he wrote.

Sotomayor said that citizens’ equal treatment shouldn’t be left to “the vagaries of the political process,” according to CNN.

“Because residents of Puerto Rico do not have voting representation in Congress, they cannot rely on their elected representatives to remedy the punishing disparities suffered by citizen residents of Puerto Rico under Congress’ unequal treatment,” Sotomayor wrote.

The case involved a $28,000 dispute involving Puerto Rican-born Jose Luis Vaello-Madero, who lived in New York from 1985 to 2013.

After a stroke in 2012, Vaello-Madero was able to receive disability payments, but he moved back to Puerto Rico in 2013, where he continued receiving the payments.

The U.S. government, upon finding out he’d left the 50 states, told him he owed $28,081 in back pay and that his benefits would cease.

His lawyers argued the exclusion violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Vaello-Madero on the issue.

As Puerto Ricans are exempt from federal taxes, the Biden administration has defended the exclusion, CNN reported.